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The bathroom: To some, it’s a sanctuary, a place for long candle-lit baths and elaborate self-care rituals.
To others, it’s a necessary evil, every inch covered in pathogens.
As with anything else, the reality is somewhere in between. Think of your bathroom as a series of water-powered tools: sink, shower, toilet. Tools are only as good as you are at using them. We hate to tell you this, but there’s a decent chance your bathroom technique could use some work.
Yep, you’ve been using the bathroom wrong. We’re talking about mistakes like…
1. Taking long, hot showers.
This is the most heartbreaking fact in the world, but those luxurious, toasty showers on a crisp fall morning could actually be ruining your skin. Before you cry, “You can take my hot showers when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers,” hear us out.
Actually, hear out board-certified dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD, who knows way more than we do about skincare.
“Long, hot showers actually dry the skin,” Schlessinger tells HealthyWay, to the newsroom’s great despair. “The heat and moisture dilate blood vessels and open pores—a set-up to lose moisture. Evaporation afterward aggravates the loss of hydration.”
Even worse, that bliss-inducing stream of hot water blasts away the skin’s natural oils. The shower stream is a perfect storm for dry skin.
“Our skin has proteins, fats, and oils that protect it and help keep it plump,” explains Claire Martin, a nutritionist and former esthetician who also writes for BeingHealthfull.com. “Heated elements from furnaces to hot water can strip our skin of this natural protection.”
Ugh. We don’t want to choose between the sweet sensation of a hot morning shower and healthy skin. So what can we do to limit the damage after indulging in a steamy soak?
“I always recommend applying a moisturizer on skin after lightly towel drying,” Schlessinger says.
Other experts we spoke to were less permissive. Many health care professionals recommend avoiding hot showers entirely, if you have the courage to do that.
“Make sure to limit your showers to 10 minutes in warm water (not hot water),” Rebecca Lee, registered nurse and founder of RemediesForMe.com, told us. “Pat dry with your towel and apply a lotion to the skin afterwards to keep the skin moisturized.”
Lee is not alone in her preference for the tepid scrub. Fayne Frey, MD, is the board-certified dermatologist behind the FryFace consumer assistance site; she gave us the cold, hard truth about long, hot showers. It turns out that we’re working against nature when we indulge.
“The skin moisturizes itself,” Frey says.
However, she explains, “The problem with long hot showers is that they remove these necessary compounds that the skin needs. Hot water and soap cannot distinguish between the dirt and unwanted residue [and] the helpful, necessary proteins and lipids the skin needs to stay moist. It is definitely a mistake to take long hot showers.”
Huh. Maybe we’ll just stop with the showers entirely, then, or at least limit them considerably—which brings us to our next point.
2. Showering too often.
Showering habits differ considerably from country to country, as The Atlantic reports here. And the less-frequent showerers of the world aren’t suffering from their lack of steam-time, our experts tell us.
“Daily showering is a cultural habit,” explains Frey. “There is no consensus on how often a person with healthy skin needs to shower. Yes, a person’s odor may change with fewer showers as bacterial flora changes on the skin.”
That last point seems to be the cultural rub here in the States. We don’t have much tolerance for the natural scent of our own bodies. But don’t mistake an odor for a health problem. People who take fewer showers—or even zero showers—don’t face a greater risk of skin problems than the folks who soak every day, Frey explains.
“I’ve been to parts of the world where the residents have no access to water and rarely if ever shower,” she says. “They have no more skin infections than the Western countries.”
We’re addicted to our showers in the United States. It’s part of our cultural make-up. If you doubt this fact, try showering once a month. Announce your plan to the whole office and check out the reaction.
So instead of going cold turkey on hot showers, maybe we should start by limiting ourselves to a more minimal cleaning routine—unless, that is, you’re an unusually sweaty or oily person.
“We like to shower daily,” Martin says. “But it’s not really necessary unless you’re a naturally sweaty person or you like to hit the gym seven days a week … I would recommend showering every other day if you [don’t engage in] strenuous, sweat-inducing activity daily, and seem prone to dry skin year-round.”
3. Using (most) soap on anything but your hands.
Your typical bar of soap is designed to cut through oils, which unfortunately include the natural protective substances that keep your skin healthy. Luckily, Frey says, “There are many types of cleansers.” While we often call all of them “soap,” there’s actually a very particular definition for this ubiquitous skin cleanser.
“Soap, an alkali salt, has a pH of 9-10,” Frey explains. (The pH level of natural skin is about 4.7.) “[Soap is] harsh and very drying to the skin … Non-soap cleansers called syndet bars and soap-free lipid cleansers are more pH friendly … and therefore much less harsh or drying. But they also remove the … compounds necessary for skin health.”
Great. So if even the soap-free cleansers are drying out our skin, what should we use when we start to get a little too ripe to go out in public?
“Use a mild soap designed for ‘sensitive skin’ instead,” says Lee. “An oil-based cleanser is also beneficial for replacing the natural oils that the skin loses during showers and baths.”
“Go for natural soaps whenever possible,” she advises. “I like using bar soaps free of tallow. You can also use castile soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s.”
Whatever you do, don’t fall for the old body-wash-and-sponge routine, she says.
“Avoid using those shower sponges if you can,” Pulisciano tells us. “They’re breeding grounds for bacteria.”
4. Brushing with an old toothbrush.
Quick, think about how long you’ve had your current toothbrush. If you can’t remember, it’s probably time for a new one.
“Toothbrushes should be replaced every three months,” says Meenal Patel, DMD, dentist and founder of Preston Dental Loft in Cary, North Carolina. “If you use an electric toothbrush, the same rules apply.”
Patel’s response is right in line with the American Dental Association, which says you should replace your toothbrush “approximately every 3–4 months or sooner if the bristles become frayed with use.”
Oh, and if you get sick, don’t use that contaminated toothbrush without cleaning it.
“Bacteria and viruses can live on … toothbrush bristles for weeks,” Lee says. “Deep cleaning your toothbrush after every use can help you fight off the microorganisms faster and … feel better better quicker.”
To deep clean toothbrush bristles, Lee recommends soaking them in hydrogen peroxide for 10 minutes. Of course, she adds, you could always just get a new toothbrush. It’s probably time for that, anyway.
5. Flushing with the seat open.
By now, you’ve probably heard of the toilet plume, that microscopic mushroom cloud of…you know…that sails out of your toilet every time you flush. If not, well, we’re sorry to be the ones to tell you: Toilet plumes are real.
Whatever’s in your toilet, it’s there in the plume. Whatever’s in the plume, well, it could easily get on your toothbrush, your soap dish, or even your rubber ducky. If it’s in the bathroom, it’s fair game for a toilet plume—which can carry some serious nasties.
Let’s get gross.
“E. coli and Salmonella in bathrooms can cause stomach illnesses such as stomach aches, cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting,” Lee says. “These bacteria are transferred to the bathroom through fecal matter. They are commonly found on bathroom surfaces, so make sure to close the toilet seat before each flush and to wash your hands thoroughly.”
Beat the plume. Please. For your own good, beat the plume.
6. Using toilet paper.
Yep, you read that right. Toilet paper is dry and harsh and way too rough for the tender parts of the body. (Hey, you’re reading an article about “Bathroom Habits.” What did you expect?)
A world without toilet paper might not be as horrifying as you think. In fact, there’s already an excellent technology that could lead to a happier life from top to bottom, so to speak.
“In my professional opinion, it’s time for toilet paper to give way to a superior form of personal cleansing,” says Jamie Gold, a San Diego-based certified kitchen designer and author of New Bathroom Idea Book (2017, Taunton Press). “There’s increasing availability of bidet toilets and bidet seats to make water cleaning and drying available.”
Even better, today’s bidets offer heated streams.
“Warm water is a more thorough and less abrasive form of hygiene than paper, and is favored by millions of users in Europe and Asia,” Gold says. “It’s starting to take root here in North America, too.”
We should certainly hope so. After all, we have to give up our hot showers. At least some part of us deserves a nice, warm spritz every now and then.